Another day brought another step forward for Anze Kopitar, who practiced with the team for the second consecutive morning without experiencing any flare-ups.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Kopitar said. “I have had a couple days of full practice with the team and it didn’t blow up on me, didn’t feel sore, so I guess I am on the right track. I got bumped a few times on the ice and I held strong, so it’s encouraging.”
Despite sounding upbeat, Kopitar admitted that playing in Saturday’s opener vs. Chicago at STAPLES Center remains unlikely.
“The door is still not completely shut, but we would much rather see me playing the other 47 games, or 46, than see me play this one.”
While Kopitar said he feels ready for contact, he said the decision is not his alone. “It’s a group decision between Darryl (Sutter), (head athletic trainer) Chris (Kingsley), and me.”
SO LONG, BUT NOT GOODBYE
As the clock struck noon, it also struck midnight for Tyler Toffoli, the Kings’ second round pick (47th overall) in the 2010 draft. At midday, Toffoli grabbed a bundle of sticks, slung a Manchester Monarchs equipment bag over his shoulder, and headed out the door, bound for LAX and a flight back to the American Hockey League. Toffoli was sent back to Manchester in order to get more playing time, but figures to be back some day.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter can be a man of few words, but on three occasions this week, he made it a point to praise Toffoli. It wasn’t so much what Sutter said, as it was the certainty with which he said it.
“Impressive young player,” Sutter said, as if he was offering an inside tip on a can’t-miss stock, when asked about Toffoli. “He’s got all the attributes to be really good in the NHL. He’s got good instincts and the more you do game situations, you see where he is going to play at some point.”
Then Sutter repeated his assessment in case anyone missed the point.
“He is an impressive young player. He is going to be a really good player. He’s a good player now.”
Sutter said Toffoli would benefit from his time practicing with the Kings this week.
“It’s awesome,” Sutter said. “It’s a little bit of a base for him. He’s right where he should be, first year pro with 18 goals in the American League. He’s a goal-scorer. He goes down there and plays a lot, plays on the power play. It serves no purpose for him not to play here.”
Toffoli, a 6-1, 187-pounder out of Scarborough, Ont., said he had heard Sutter’s comments but paid little attention to them.
“You definitely hear those things,” Toffoli said. “All you can do is keep working and getting better every day.”
Toffoli, who had two seasons of 50-plus goals for Ottawa of the OHL, has a scoring touch that has been likened to that of Luc Robitaille.
“It’s pretty big hype to live up to,” Toffoli said. “Luc is one of the best players to ever play for the Kings. Maybe one day (I can be compared to him), but not now.”
Toffoli then described a style of play that sounded positively Robitaille-like.
“I like to shoot the puck,” he said. “You can tell that by looking at my stats. I get more goals than assists. I like to get the puck to the net and get a lot of opportunities in the offensive zone. I also like to be good on the boards, and get pucks out and do all the little things right.”
In his last practice with the Kings, Toffoli skated on line with Anze Kopitar and Anthony Stewart.
“Anze is a great player, one of the best in the world,” Toffoli said. “It was a great opportunity and, hopefully, I can play on his line someday.”
The first thought that raced through Antony Stewart’s mind when he received word Sunday morning that he had been traded from Carolina to Los Angeles?
“What about the dogs?” Stewart said.
The power forward has two dogs: Dexter, a three-year-old English Mastiff that weighs in at 175 pounds; and Anna, an Italian Mastiff mix, that weighs about 110 pounds.
“They are big dogs,” Stewart said. “I don’t know if they can fit in the back of a car for 40 hours or if they can take a plane. They travel really well, but I think the trip from Carolina to L.A. might be a little too far. It’s something that my fiancée and I have to figure out.”
Stewart says he comes from a long line of dog lovers.
“My brother has three dogs,” he said. “It’s interesting when we meet up in the summer because you have all the dogs fighting for territory.”
Stewart is battling for his own territory as a grinder on the third or fourth line.
“I am a power forward that wants to be first on the fore check,” he said. “I want get that big hit on the ‘D’ to turn the puck over, and go from there.”
Stewart said he is already starting to feel at home in the Kings’ locker room.
“There are a lot of familiar faces,” Stewart said. “Guys that I used to play with or against. It’s almost like getting traded to a team I am familiar with as opposed to joining a whole new team.”
Coach Darryl Sutter said he was encouraged by what he saw in practice today. “Every other day we have been trying to simulate a lot of game stuff,” Sutter said. “So, we are getting there. It’s not easy for players. We are almost at the point now where it is like the second week of training camp and you are just waiting for the games. That’s kind of where we are at.”
Sutter had no concrete timetable for Willie Mitchell’s return, saying he is “a ways away; he hasn’t skated yet.”
Sutter reiterated that with today’s NHL players remaining in such good condition all year round, the shortened training camp has not been a major problem. “I thought timing would be a big thing, but it’s not an issue at all.”
The Kings announced today that Kelly Cheeseman has been named the team’s new Chief Operating Officer. Cheeseman, who will also serve as COO for AEG Sports, is in his twelfth season with the Kings. He replaces Chris McGowan, who left to take over as President and CEO of the Portland Trail Blazers. Cheeseman is a graduate of Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he earned a degree in sports management in 2000.
Dustin Penner worked out at the facility early this morning but did not practice. Sutter said Penner had been excused for “something we have known about for a long time.”
Defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk was placed on waivers, clearing the way for Jake Muzzin to earn a roster spot while Willie Mitchell remains sidelined.